25th September 2019
Spreading climate change solutions with the Institution of Environmental Sciences
Eugene Costello, Journalist-in-Residence
Each one of us is a cause of global warming, but each one of us can make choices to change that with the things we buy, the electricity we use, the cars we drive; we can make choices to bring our individual carbon emissions to zero…
So said Al Gore, former Vice-President of the United States, and probably the single person to have achieved the most in his relentless quest to bring the burning, vital issue of climate change to people’s awareness.
Since then, the case has become even more pressing, leading Gore to release An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power in 2017. Octopus Energy are as happy as larry to be working with the Institution of Environmental Sciences in supporting three screenings of the film over the summer, each followed by a panel debate.
We have partnered with Institution of Environmental Sciences because we both share a passion and commitment to creating a more sustainable future. The time to act is now and raising public awareness of environmental science is our number one aim in this team up with IES.
We teamed up with the IES to bring our climate change awareness series to three key UK cities:
Leicester - 31st July
London - 7th August
Glasgow - 8th August
Since 1971, The Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES) have been doing important work spreading the word about climate change world-wide. They promote environmental scientific study by supporting the important work being done by scientists and academics in this utterly crucial field.
But we also wanted to effect change through the expert panel discussion in the evening after each screening. We discussed the predicted catastrophic consequences of climate change, the scientific research that builds these forecasts and the role renewable energy companies, environmental professionals and the public has in being part of the solution. Become the change you wish to see...
Sebastian, a long-time climate activist and Special Ops lead in our business energy team, joined the panel to discuss climate uncertainties from carbon reduction targets to point-of-no-return deadlines.
Hosted in the iconic Richard III Visitor Centre (powered by Octopus, naturally) the panel was made up of the following:
- Dr Luci Collinwood, Senior Science Officer at the Welsh Government Office for Science
- Professor Rob Wilby, Professor of Hydroclimatic Modelling at Loughborough University
- Yhasmin Moura, Centre for Landscape and Climate Research, University of Leicester and Royal Society Newton International Fellow
The screening sequence invited Leicestershire to bring their ideas and questions to the discussion surrounding climate change mitigation. The conversation discussed the reliability of climate modelling and the impact global initiatives such as Extinction Rebellion have had to date, and the importance of education when encouraging local and global communities to consider their climate impact.
The debate round off with a philosophical question from Professor Rob Wilby on the long-term aims in tackling the climate crisis: “What do we consider to be the optimum climate condition on planet earth and how will we know when the climate crisis has been resolved? Leaving scientists, society, governments and industry with the question, ‘What are we striving for?’”
We stopped Sebastian who leads Special Operations in our business department for a thorough report of how the evening went. Sebastian pointed out that there was a very high-calibre cast of panellists at the event, with a great blend of experts in their respective fields.
“I was really positively surprised by how many people came to this event in their spare time and wanted to hear, learn and discuss about climate change,” Sebastian adds, saying that the room was packed on a weekday evening.
“After the film the discussion started off with questions regarding the accuracy and uncertainties of climate models,” says Sebastian, “which resulted in the overview that, even if there are minor differences in what science tells us, all reports warn us and ask individuals, industry and governments to act now.”
He points out that there is no doubt that climate change as we experience it now is made by us, and we need to take responsibility.
There was also a general view that there is no clear answer on how long humanity has left to fight climate change to limit average temperature rise to only 1.5 – 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, says Sebastian.
“People were asking for clearer information on the carbon footprint reduction needed, on a national and individual scale, to keep climate change to a minimum,” says Sebastian.
They demanded clear facts and figures on the widely held view that humanity has no more than 12 years to save the earth. There is a range of carbon-reduction targets from different agreements and it is not clear to the public which targets actually work effectively and whether their country is on the way to meeting or missing a target.
“The next big question,” says Sebastian, “was what the individual can do to fight climate change, that is to say, what are the most effective means to make changes in your personal life that have the biggest positive impact?” The general consensus here was changing your diet and buying locally, avoiding flying and switching to renewable energy.
“A point that is overlooked by some,” says Sebastian, “is to raise awareness of behaviour change and so helping other people make changes too, and also helping to make being eco-friendly trendy and sexy.”
Out of this discussion arose the question whether we actually have to overthrow the whole system and replace metrics of profit and growth with sustainable metrics, says Sebastian.
“This is a very fair point,” says Sebastian, “since simply by switching to Octopus Energy will not immediately save the world, and Octopus have their shareholders as well.”
But the panel and audience concluded that there is no perfect solution at the moment, meaning it is best to support people and companies who want to make positive change, Sebastian adds, “even if their approach is not perfect”.
Sebastian concludes: “It is my hope that people left on that evening knowing that it is a very important time to be alive today as we are the last people who can actually save our planet for future generations.
Individuals should never underestimate their power... even if they think what they do (be it recycling more or eating less meat or having renewable energy) is just a drop in the ocean; every drop makes waves and imagine now, a billion drops in the ocean of people that all make small changes to save our world, then we will have a massive and unstoppable sustainability-change tsunami!
Clem Cowton (our Director of External Affairs, energy policy geek) joined the panel to discuss how innovative technologies could drive individual, sustainable change in ways we’d never even expect.
- Fiona Dear, Campaigns Manager at The Climate Coalition
- Philippe Pernstich, Consultant at Carbon Trust
- Jonathan Casey, Principal Environmental Consultant at Atkins
On the doorstep of Westminster, the conversation naturally turned towards the role of Government. Given that the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be held in Glasgow next year, the Government will be under the spotlight to demonstrate their commitment to addressing the climate crisis following their recent declaration of a climate emergency.
How do we intend to reach the ‘net zero’ target set for 2050? It is well-recognised that fundamental behaviour change can bring about significant innovation. However, in order to achieve this, the appropriate structures must be put in place to enable people, society and business to bring about change.
Therefore, it falls on governments to invest in more sustainable infrastructure such as renewable sources of energy and greater resilience in public transport. We cannot and should not be solely expected to tackle this crisis as individuals.
Although, there is important evidence to show that, when given a platform, what was once considered a fad can quickly become incorporated into the norm and generate a weighty societal shift. This can be seen in the increasing popularity of vegan and vegetarian diets, and the downfall of single-use plastic consumption.
Clem, a passionate crusader for the move to renewable and sustainable energy supply, drew an analogy with the launch of the smartphone.
“Some years ago, a friend went to Japan, and came back, wide-eyed,” says Clem. “He was saying, ‘My God, everyone is taking photos on their phones’.
“Soon, we had Instagram and so on, and now it is a billion-pound global industry. So rather than saying, wait for the demand, instead tech companies need to keep developing new products, platforms and so on. The appetite is there, especially for responsible and sustainable models.
“It’s like the line in the film – ‘Build it and they will come.’ No one thought a piece of tech for ride-sharing would be so big, for instance, but it has led to a revolution in the taxi industry by providing a new platform for companies such as Uber to emerge. So how can the upsurge in public interest around climate change be captured and used to address the crisis?” she asks pertinently.
Our final port of call was Glasgow, where the panel was joined by reformed petrolhead Charlie from our Electric Vehicles division to talk about green transport and local renewable energy sources.
- James Robb, Senior Sustainability Consultant at WSP
- Faye Tester, Environment Manager at SGN
- Patrick Harvie, Scottish Green Party
Questions exploring the feasibility of alternative transport, energy supply and agriculture were the focus of the discussion. As previously mentioned, for many people, the infrastructure is not available to make the required changes to transition away from fossil fuels and traditional agricultural techniques.
Patrick Harvie used the River Clyde as an excellent example of how Glasgow has the opportunity to capture natural thermal energy. This demonstrates the potential cities have to evolve, develop and revolutionise by surrounding collective approaches with significant governmental support to make alternative options viable.
And our own EV guy, Charlie Fraser discussed the growing market for electric vehicles and highlighted their increasing competition with traditional combustion engines. To encourage a societal shift towards electric vehicles, he concluded, yet again education is needed to increase people’s confidence in making the change.
Head over to the IES website to see more of the great work they do!
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